Farm girl phones home

Celebrating the Land of Living Skies

Published: Jul 11 2016, 01:01:am

Sunday, June 29, 1986

THE PRAIRIES HAVE HEART. Old-fashioned, down-home good feelings shine through the Expo films on view at the pavilions of both Alberta and Saskatchewan.
    Brilliant in its simplicity and irresistible in its presentation is See You in Saskatchewan, the 20-minute movie in the Saskatchewan pavilion's Horizon Theatre. In it, we meet Terry, a teenaged farm girl leaving for the big city and her first adult job.
    While life continues back home, a live Terry arrives in the theatre to act as our pavilion hostess. She tells us about her home province, "the greatest place on earth." (During the working week, six different actresses share the role of Terry, a character whose face is never seen in the film.)
    Before the live Terry can tell us very much, characters in the movie begin to interact with her. Granddad, her Indian uncle Roy, and Eddie, her hometown boyfriend, all tell her how much she's missing by working so far away.
     Conceived and directed by Vancouver filmmaker Zale Dalen, the show is a charmingly extended variation on those long-distance telephone commercials that remind people to phone Mom from time to time. Produced by Harvard Creative Services of Regina, it's likely to make even non-Saskatchewanians homesick for Terry's tidy little house on the prairie.
    Offered as a package in the Alberta pavilion are four film vignettes showing continuously as fairgoers walk through the building. Recalling the province's native heritage is Buffalo Jump, a 50-second evocation of pre-European hunting on the open prairies.
    A second 50-second film called Alberta Sky goes aloft with a bush pilot, intercutting his flight with that of the province's official bird, the great horned owl. A full-circle screen surrounds fairgoers with the action in Rodeo, a four-minute show that imaginatively combines slide with motion picture footage to offer an impression of chuckwagon racing.
    Creating the best impression of all is Ballet at Syncrude, a 3½-minute fantasy worthy of Steven Spielberg. In it, a little girl named Jessica returns home from her ballet class to dream about dancing with her father and his co-workers on the tar sands.
    Giving the vignette a comic skew is the fact that while Jessica is a darling blonde child in a pink tutu and pointe slippers, dad and the boys are all beefy, hard-hatted oil patch roughnecks. A tiny triumph, this little gem is the work of Dreamland Pictures' Peter Campbell. Be sure to watch it through to the very end.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1986. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: In 1986, 38-year-old Zale Dalen's cinematic career seemed well on its way. A  Simon Fraser Film Workshop alum, the Phillippines-born director had two feature films to his credit, and sharp-eyed fans of the Vancouver-made TV series Danger Bay saw his name on three episodes that year. Canada's preeminent film historian Peter Morris noted Dalen's ascending star in his 1984 book The Film Companion, calling him a "talented young filmmaker . . . who has made two distinguished features, Skip Tracer and The Hounds of Notre Dame." Morris went on to describe Dalen's 1977 feature, the story of a driven bill collector, as "one of the most auspicious feature film debuts in recent years." His second feature, 1980's Hounds of Notre Dame, was based on the true story of Father Athol "Père" Murray, the founder of the College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. Nominated for nine Genie Awards (including best picture and director), it won the best actor prize (for Thomas Peacocke, who played Père Murray).
    Although he made two more theatrical features — 1989's Terminal City Ricochet, a punk rock sci-fi satire shot in Vancouver, and the cyber-crime thriller Expect No Mercy (1995), filmed in Toronto — Dalen's subsequent career was primarily as a television director. In a biographical note written for the Vimeo website, he tells us that "I went into television and slowly transformed from an enfant terrible into an old television hack. A large royalty payment toward the end of the century allowed me to found the Volksmovie Movement, dedicated to making movies outside of the industrial model. [The feature film] Passion is the result. Then, to make a long story short, I went crazy, went bankrupt, and ran away to China to teach at a university for nine years."
    In June 2013, Dalen returned to Canada and now makes his home in Nanaimo, B.C. Earlier this year, he attended a special screening honouring his Skip Tracer at Vancouver's Pacific Cinémathèque. Early next month (Sunday, August 7), he's scheduled to speak at the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo. On its website, Dalen describes himself as "a reformed movie director and teacher who now devotes himself to overcoming mediocrity as a musician while turning his home and garden into a work of art." Currently, he is posting his thoughts to the Zale Dalen Website.        

See also: The nine articles included in this, the second of four Expo 86 special reports, explore the pavilions of:
14: Expo 86 British Columbia
15: Expo 86 Canada/Washington State
16: Expo 86 Canada
17: Expo 86 California
18: Expo 86 Mexico/Cuba/USA